JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu closed roads leading to a strategic West Bank site Saturday night in preparation to evacuate Palestinians who pitched tents there to protest plans to build a Jewish housing project.
Palestinian activists erected tents in the area known as E-1 on Friday saying they wanted to "establish facts on the ground" to stop Israeli construction in the West Bank. The activists were borrowing a phrase and a tactic, usually associated with Jewish settlers, who believe establishing communities means the territory will remain Israeli.
Activists said they want to establish a village in the site, which they are calling Bab Al Shams.
Netanyahu's office said Saturday night that the state is petitioning the Supreme Court to rescind an earlier injunction blocking the evacuation. In the meantime, he ordered the area declared a closed military zone and shut off access.
Israel announced it is moving forward with the E-1 settlement after the U.N. recognized a de facto state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in November.
Palestinians say E-1 would be a major blow to their statehood aspirations as it blocks east Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland. Palestinians are demanding these areas, along with Gaza, for their future state.
The construction plans drew unusually sharp criticism from some of Israel's staunchest allies including the U.S. who strongly oppose the E- 1 project.
Israeli officials have said actual construction on the project may be years away if it ever gets off the ground, while Israeli critics have questioned whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu actually intends to develop E-1, or is pandering to hard-liners ahead of Israel's Jan. 22 election.